Friday 19 April 2024

Play as Sculpture, Play as Prism

Watching my eldest child and friends engaging in imaginative play, I'm often struck by the fact that what seems to excite them is deciding who gets to be what, and describing the many different situations that could unfold, rather than actually taking on those roles and acting out those scenarios. 'You can be the big sister and I can be the little sister, ok? And your name can be Annie and mine can be Becky.' 'Ok, and we can both be mummies.' 'Yeah, and I'm a doctor but in my spare time I teach aerobics.' 'And I'm a doctor too but I teach swimming. And I have three babies, one boy and two girls.' And so it goes on. And on. And on. And on. After a while they get bored entertaining these options and either move onto something else or shift to a different imaginary landscape: 'Let's be fairies!' But they never actually seem to spend very long doing what they spend an inordinate amount of time imagining themselves being.

This is because the activity of imaginative play really engages two rather different pleasures, and operates in two different modalities (to use a horrible word). 

On the one hand, the undertaking can be thought of as an exercise in foreclosing options. Picture yourself sitting quietly, minding your own business, doing something dull and anodyne - calculating your monthly incomings and outgoings, for example. At this point, you are not really imagining anything at all: your creativity is not at all engaged. Now picture yourself being distracted by some thought or other, and - you'll be familiar with the sensation - shifting your gaze to the middle distance while mental images rise up in your mind.

At this point, you are shifting from a position of complete imaginative openness - you could be imagining literally anything conceivable - to one of gradual imaginative closure. You are imagining nothing, and now you are imagining....a swan floating down a river. Why? It bubbled up from your subconscious. OK: so now you are imagining that, and you by definition can't be imagining any of the other near-infinite things you could be. You've gone from a position of unfettered imaginative freedom to one in which whatever it is you are going to imagining next is going to relate is some way, however indirectly and unpredictably, to swans floating down rivers. Obviously this gives rise to many other options, but it is much, much fewer options than literally anything.

Imagination in that sense is a funny business, and it has a way of leaping about in unfathomable ways: you're thinking about a swan floating down a river one moment and the next, for some reason, you're remembering an ex-girlfriend. Why? There is some reason dwelling in your subconscious why the two things are connected, but heaven knows what. The matter becomes clearer when reflecting on the task of a novelist. A novelist begins with a real or digital blank sheet of paper. He could write anything. But he sets pen to paper and starts to write: 'The frog-man woke in a cold sweat with the bedsheets wrapped tightly around him.' Given that he has written this, in the next sentence the novelist could write many things, but, for the story to make sense, whatever he writes has to relate now to the character of the frog-man and to the fact that he is in bed, has been apparently feverish and dreaming, and so on. And what he writes next will have to relate to those things. And so on; the world of options becomes narrower.

This is a pleasurable sensation in that we experience something of the same feelings that are experienced by the sculpture, who begins with a blank slab of stone - near infinite options - and, with his tools, starts to carve. He chisels out a human face - and now the options of the sculpture being non-figurative, or not being human at all, dissipate. He chisels out a beard. Now the sculpture will be a man. He chisels some more. Now it will look like this and not that or that or that or the other thing. Eventually, it is honed into finality.

On the other hand, imaginative play has a kind of prismatic quality to it in that it can take what has been tightly bunched and linear - tightly bunched and linear like a ray of light - and scatter it open. The game has been 'mummies' and an entire complex scenario has accreted; now suddenly it's 'let's be...fairies!' New options appear. These moments can almost be thought of as paradigm shifts, in which what was settled is suddenly and radically destabilised.

This too is pleasurable. It keeps everything from going stale. It gives us a sense of unpredictability and excited anticipation about what is going to happen next. 

These two pleasures, or two modalities - sculpture and prism - of course interact, and I think it is safe to say that, acting in harmony, they produce an iterative process that is highly conducive to creativity. Ideas are had and the foreclosure of options necessarily begins; gradually things grow narrow before being exploded outwards again by new suggestions, new notions, new potentiality. And so things go, back and forth, oscillating between these twin modalities of closure and expansion. 

The beauty of a role playing game is that it, of course, incorporates both of these different pleasures - 'What shall we play? D&D. What is your PC going to be? A fighter. And so on. In these moments the session, and the campaign, are sculpted. But of course there are other moments, often moments of decision - or moments when dice are rolled - at which things are exploded open again. A PC dies - who will replace him? A random encounter sends everything off on a tangent. The PCs decide to venture overland, across the wilderness. A hitherto-uncharted or unmapped (by the DM) region is suddenly brought into awareness. A process of foreclosure is reversed - before itself being reversed again. The new PC is going to be a magic-user. The newly-mapped region is inhabited by X, Y and Z and contains A, B and C. And so on. 

RPGs can, then, be thought to capture - and formalise - two important substrates on which imaginative play, perhaps the most truly human activity, since no other animal can do it, rest. 

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Moons around the Storm God

What moves the wind, brings the rain, boils the clouds into the sky and freezes them into snow? 

Not the Storm God. He is rather the one who takes what the weather gods have wrought and imbues it with his malice, his pride, his might, and his indignation. His task is to bring low, to strip away, to break down, and to shatter, splinter, smash. He waits in a brooding simmer, and at moments when his umbrage at the sheer gall of the living grows too great, he summons the power of his rage to remind them that their lot is to suffer.

He sits as a tempestuous mass of wondrous colour deep in the great ocean of rainbow dream-scape that is drawn into the sky of all possible worlds. But he does not sit there alone. Around him he has flung his children - ninety-five of them he has sired - as a man casts a great fistful of salt into the air around him. Each a world in its own right, hanging imprisoned and transfixed before the vastness of his bulk and the greatness of his outraged splendour; they are the closest to the power of his anger, and bear it at its most frequent and savage. 

But the peoples who inhabit them, near as they are to him, also know a secret - that when a storm abates, in its wake is revealed a world transformed in its freshness and clarity, such indeed that it never fails to be shown as it really is, with all that is shrouding, or misleading, or veiling, or deceitful, swept aside and gone forever. It is in such moments, these peoples know, that opportunity takes its moment to presence in creation - and the Storm God is unwittingly displayed to be the agent not only of sorrow, but also of hope.

(A Moons of Jupiter planetcrawl to put the new Spelljammer in WotC's pipe and make them smoke it. 'Nuff said?)

Thursday 11 April 2024

Real World Dungeons: The Norman Chapel

To be truly effective, a good narcotics agent should know and love narcotics. Similarly, a good DM should know and love dungeons.

Today I went to the Norman Chapel at Durham Castle, a subterranean place of worship built around 1080. It was packed with sightseers (Durham Castle isn't normally open to visitors) and, because it was cold and wet outside, the air within was full of that distinctive warm, slightly foetid smell that seems to arise in an encolosed space in which there are a lot of people who have just stepped in from the rain. My eldest said it smelled like the reptile house at the zoo; I thought it smelled like my old classroom at school on what we used to call a 'wet lunch' when we weren't allowed outside at lunch hour because it was too inclement. 

But it retained its ability to impress. It is not a large space - I would estimate something like 10 x 10 metres if that. And it was empty of the paraphernalia that must have once been in there: pews, candles, altars, etc. Yet there was a lot going on in it all the same. There are a lot of columns, none of which are identical, and all of which are decorated with interesting symblic carvings at the top (including a mermaid, leopards, hunting dioramas, and so on):

There was attention to detail evident everywhere. This was an empty room, but it was no 'empty room'. There was stuff - were it a room in a D&D dungeon - for a group of PCs to investigate, ponder, note down, ask about when back in town. Giving some of the carvings a minor magical effect when interacted with, or some sort of historical importance or thematic tie-in to objects found elsewhere, would transform it from something to merely pass through to an entire mini-encounter in its own right.

I was most struck, though, by how difficult it would be to fight down there - even with lights on, let alone in the dark. This photo gives a good taster (click to enlarge):

But it doesn't quite convey just how cramped it is. There's barely room to swing a cat, let alone a sword, and there is everywhere something to duck or hide behind. It gives the '1 minute combat round' a whole other aspect to imagine how hard it would be to actually land a telling blow in a fight in such circumstances, considerations of armour set aside. 

More crudely, the room makes a very good case for the column. Like most DMs, the rooms in my dungeons tend to lack columns unless I feel it would be interesting to include them or they had some aesthetic or other purpose. But, of course, 'real life' dungeons would be full of columns. This makes the column a much neglected phenomenon in OSR writings. How to make columns interesting ought to be a subject to which we have devoted large amounts of time and generated much theoretical insight. Courtney Campbell, Melan/Gabor Lux, Prince of Nothing, Ktrey Parker - we are looking at you.

Monday 8 April 2024

I Do Not Hate This: Or, is the OSR of Lego a Thing?

I took my kids to the local shopping mall the other day and we went into the Lego shop to play with the Duplo. And there, in the window, I saw this:

Yes D&D Lego is now a thing.

I must be going soft in my old age, but I was surprised to discover that I do not hate this. Indeed, I am sure that if I was 10 years old, I would have absolutely loved it. I would not have loved the price (£315 bloody quid!!); I can still remember gazing longingly at Lego pirate boats as a small boy and knowing that there was no way my parents would have been able to afford them. And the way in which poor kids are increasingly priced out of hobbies by the geek chic arms race does irk me; one of the big problems associated with the prevalence of nerd pursuits among adults with comparatively large disposable incomes is a gradual inflation of cost that pulls up the drawbridge to ordinary children without deep-pocketed parents. But, I do have to confess that there is still a small part of me that finds it possible to get excited at the thought of playing with Lego, and that in that regard D&D Lego is kind of a no-brainer.

This, though, got me wondering. Even when I was a child I can remember my dad venting about the direction in which Lego had gone. The nature of his complaint was that real Lego, ironman Lego as it were, should just involve the basic standard Lego pieces with which we are all familiar. To utilise those simple, orthodox building blocks for all of one's building needs was, in his view, the mark of proper creative Lego use. The fitting together of pre-moulded chunks of plastic to make things like the dragon's wings, or the tree trunk, or the beholder's head and eye-stalks, was to him an anathema. It was 'cheating'. If one wanted to make a Lego dragon, say, then one ought to do it with the standard bits. Otherwise one was a mere hack - engaging in the act of building merely to pass the time.

That must have been in the late 80s. Goodness knows what he would have made of the Lego kits that are available now. I concede that he may have adopted this line of argument as a way of kidding me into not nagging him to buy expensive pirate boats. But I think it was based on a genuine desire to imagine Lego not as a mere toy but also as a tool to boost lateral thinking and creativity. As fun as it looks to put together the D&D Lego diorama shown above, it is a creative straightjacket; you can't really do more with it than just follow the instructions. My dad wasn't into just following instructions, and I can see now that I must have inherited something of that sensibility. I prefer the idea of putting bricks together to realise an idea of one's own.

This is all, though, a roundabout way of saying: presumably there are people out there who are of the mindset as my old man, and who refuse to partake in modern Lego's embrace of the pre-mould. There must be Lego enthusiasts - call them the OSR of Lego, as it were - who like to stick to first principles and will only build things out of the basic, standard bricks and old-fashioned smiley-faced men. This has to be the case, doesn't it? Fly, my pretties, and see what you can unearth.

Friday 5 April 2024

Incomplete List of Monsters Which Might Inhabit the Moon

Regular readers will know of my fondness for the moon as a location for campaigns, not envisaged as it really is, but rather in the illustrative and imaginative ways that it was before we had the technology to visit it - an ethereal, distant, sibling-world, silvery and pale, constantly shifting and changing; a place of magic and of strange, inscrutable influences on the hearts and minds of men.

We can all of us imagine (well, I hope so) a D&D campaign taking place on that kind of moon: with moon orcs, moon dwarves, moon elves, and the like. That can be the subject of future posts. For the time being, it is I think worth asking: which existing D&D monsters (let's limit ourselves to the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual) can you imagine living on the moon without any tweaks to appearance, abilities, and so on? Bearing in mind, of course, that this the fantasy moon, which has earth gravity and breathable air.

Here is what I earlier noted down when I was working productively at my desk doing the job I am gainfully employed to do:

List of Monsters Which Might Inhabit the Moon Without Significant Tweaks





Bat - Sinister


Broken one

Cave fisher


Displacer beast

Moon dog (natch)

Dragons - probably silver, amethyst, crystal

Galeb duhr

Gelatinous cube

Giants - formorian, fog, stone?







Ogre mage




Umber hulk

Will o'wisp

Xorn, xaren

The advantage of this exercise - what you might call setting-creation-via-monsters - is that this list in itself provides an imaginative framework within which to work. Just to read it is both to taste the flavour of what is intended, and to immediately begin generating ideas. I recommend the method, and it would clearly work well for other types of setting. 

Tuesday 2 April 2024

What if gods were real?

I went to two church services in the last few days, it being Holy Week. The first, the Good Friday liturgy at the local Anglican church, was attended by not more than a dozen of us; the second, Evensong on Easter Sunday, took place at Durham Cathedral, one of the finest buildings ever constructed and a world heritage site, and was attended by a large crowd. You couldn't really get two more dissimilar occasions in many ways, but at root the emphasis was the same: God's becoming real in the person of Jesus.

Don't worry - I don't mean to smuggle Christian apologetics into my blog through the back door. Instead I mean to raise the question as to what human behaviour would be like if there were in fact real D&D deities, who inhabited the physical world, who had personalities and needs and desires, and who one could talk to and otherwise interact with and perhaps some day even rival, fight, slay. Not to get too Joan Osborne about it, but what if Gruumsh was one of us?

In some respects, of course, it would make religion even more important than it is, and was, in human societies in the real world - which is to say, very important indeed. Religion governed basically every aspect of our ancestors' lives; they not only prayed and worshipped as though they meant it, knew what saint's day it was each and every day, worried incessantly about the afterlife, and confessed their each and every sin. They also constructed the entire political economies and legal systems of their society on the basis of what they considered to be divine right, and imagined the exercise of government itself to be a reflection of the proper relationship between God and creation. They were, to the modern eye, complete fanatics. 

Now imagine what they would have been like if there was a realistic possibility that Poseidon, or Zeus, or whoever, might show up one day, hurtling lightning bolts. Everybody's lives would hinge on what would or not be pleasing to them to an even greater extent than would have been the case for a 12th century French peasant or 5th century BC Spartan. And that would be rather a lot.

At the same time, though, the relationship between the human individual and the divine would be much more familiar and knowable. One of the great peculiarities of human religion is that it is contingent on guesswork: whether one is a modern Christian or Muslim praying, an Aztec priest pulling out some poor fool's still-beating heart, or an ancient pastoralist making an offering to the hearth god, one is making what can only be described as, well, a leap of faith. Will my god hear me? Will I get what I want? Will it work?

People in a D&D world would not have this problem. They would live in something more like a spiritual economy, in which one could be pretty sure what one's god would want of one in any given moment, and in which one could ask him or her directly to intercede on one's behalf - and therefore make trades and bargains: I'll sacrifice a dozen gorgons to you if you grant me a safe voyage across the ocean; I promise to never tell a lie again if you heal my sick child; if you give might to my sword arm when I make war on the men of Fnarr, I'll convert them to your cause when I win. And so on. By the same token, it would also be the case that one could be pretty sure - depending I suppose on the caprice of the god in question - whether one would be rewarded for doing x, y or z. 

The result would be a much more pervasive and important, but also more transactional relationship between deity and devotee. If one really wanted to, one could really push the spiritual economy point and imagine a system emerging in which rewards bestowed by gods could be represented by tokens and traded for one another or even exchanged like cash - redeemable from the god in question on a 'pay the bearer on demand' basis. 

Thursday 28 March 2024

On Emotion in the Creative Process

I have written a lot in this blog about AI and machine learning, and have probably established my credentials as a sceptic. It is not 'intelligence' and it will not, in my view, ever be able to create anything other than curious pastiche. That is not the same as saying it will not create things that people will utilise: most popular entertainment is basically pastiche. And these days 'entertainment' seems increasingly to mean addictive clickbait, at which AI will presumably excel. But it will not produce anything really worth reading, watching, or hearing.

This is because - I know this will shock and appall readers - human beings are not rational. We make our decisions on the basis of emotions. And anything that does not have emotions therefore cannot replicate human thought or decision-making. In this regard, I strongly recommend listening to this interview with Robert Burton, a neurologist who has written extensively on knowledge and decision-making. A transcript of the crucial passage in the interview runs as follows:

[There was] a cardiac surgeon of some repute, who did a study of whether or not hands-off massage--I have forgotten the name for it now but it's when you run your hand over the patient's body but don't actually touch them--will improve cardiac surgery. And, when they asked him why he came up with this idea, he said, 'Well, I had no a priori opinion on this.' Then, I would say, 'Why would you do this study?' I mean, that would be the equivalent of saying...eating lasagna helped cardiac surgery. You'd say, 'Why?--' and this was sort the plea that I have in my second book, is that: Scientists initiate almost all research, and I mean, I say, 'almost all' I'm just trying to be generous, from the point of view of some preconception. Often one that they don't understand at all. But it's just one that tweaks them. And I was--you think about Albert Einstein and the theories of relativity, and he was working at the Swiss patent office, and one of the big issues at the time was with the nature of time and getting railroad scheduling. So, trying to arrive on time. And he wasn't the only one thinking about it. Now, the question is: If he hadn't worked in the patent office, would he have come up with the same idea? Maybe. Maybe not. But did thinking about time and getting it so the trains--triggered an experiment about the man on the train? Well, you never know. I wouldn't call that a bias. I would just call that prior experience and his native temperament have shaded the way he starts thinking about the experiment. And that's not overcome-able.

The crucial phrases are there in bold. Human beings - even scientists, who are purportedly 'rational' - decide what they are going to investigate, and how they are going to investigate it, on the basis of emotion. Otherwise, why would they be interested in the thing they are investigating, as opposed to the infinite range of other topics they could be investigating? Why are they interested in investigating anything at all? The answers to those questions are based in 'prior experience and native temperament', on how the scientist is being 'tweaked' (which is to say, irrational motives), and not on reason. Why did Einstein investigate relativity? Because he was interested in it. And the 'being interestedness' is itself rooted in emotion, not rationality.

The emotion, then, comes first and is crucial. Why do we get out of bed in the morning? Because we feel that there is a reason to, as opposed to not doing it. More pertinently, why do we want to create a piece of art in the first place, let alone actually go about the process of doing it? Precisely because, well, we want to. The feeling and wanting are necessary - they are where volition comes from. And they are what dictate to us the direction in which we will go during the creative process. Human creativity is in other words only partly iterative, and only partly based on prior influences and knowledge of the genre in which one is working. It is emotion that dictates the decision-making processes which are continually made during the production of any given work of art.

There is a great interview available on YouTube between Rick Beato and Billy Corgan. You'll get a huge kick out of it if you're a Smashing Pumpkins fan and should listen to the whole thing. But if you're not, and just want to get to the salient segment, start listening at this point, an hour and five minutes in. Having been asked about the songwriting process, Billy makes clear that drawing from existing influences is only a very minor part of the exercise. Again, to provide a (somewhat paraphrased) transcript:

'Sometimes it might help when you get stuck to think...well, what would John Lennon do? What would Bob Marley do here? Sometimes that can just get you across the line... But as far as the core of what I do, it's always a mystery to me. And the best way I can describe it to somebody is, I'm at home playing the piano, and I'm singing a melody, and I'll sing a note, and I'll think, that's kind of a weird note, so I'll find the note on the piano... [and sometimes] it's dissonant....and I'll think, 'well that's wrong'. So I'll resing the melody, 'correctly', and there's a little guy in my head that goes, 'No', and there's an argument in my brain, and I cannot, not hear the melody that my brain is telling me to sing, so that's the melody.... and if I derogate from it, there's a voice in my head that says, 'No, that's the wrong melody'...'

He goes on (very illuminatingly when thinking about AI):

'There's the computer part [in my brain], and then there's the part which is felt emotion. It's hard to explain.... You're playing something and you think, well, this part's okay. You try something and you go, well that's a little bit better. But maybe it's too weird or out of context...and then you're into the binary choice of whether to go for the D, which is the 5th, or I could go to the F which is the flatted 7th of a G or something, and then you sing one way, and then you sing the other, and you sit there and go, eeny meeny miny mo....I think that's the moment that makes you a songwriter.'

The point, of course, is that the 'eeny meeny miny mo' moment is where emotion comes in. At any given point in time, when writing a melody, one could come up with one note, or another note, or indeed any other of a range of notes. At that level, the human creative process is the same as an AI process. The difference is that the decision of which note comes next to the human is rooted in emotion, whereas to the AI it can only be rooted in reference to other songs which it 'knows'. The human can make a leap based in the logic of feeling. An AI can only, metaphorically, act randomly or by reference to 'What would John Lennon/Bob Marley do?' reasoning. 

This is the difference between art and pastiche. And this is why 'artificial' 'intelligence' will not produce art. 

Monday 25 March 2024

Thoughts on the Theory and Doctrine of Golems

It is an important question, I'm sure you will agree, as to what qualifies as a 'golem' as distinct from an automaton, an animated statute, and so on. It has long troubled me that the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual treats Frankenstein's monsters, clay golems, doll golems, gargoyle golems, juggernauts and scarecrows as a single category, when to my eye these are an impossibly wide variety of fundamentally different types of thing that are being wrongly brought under the same umbrella. Many a night have I lain awake, tossing and turning in my bedclothes, staring at the shadows on the ceiling and whispering hoarsely to myself about the infelicities of this deep, fundamental misunderstanding and what it suggests to me about the impending dissolution of the world of concepts - this tends to happen when I've been at the whisky. In any event, it's about time I got this off my chest: YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT DEFINITIONS ABOUT WHAT IS, AND IS NOT, A GOLEM ARE NOT MADE OUT. 

To a certain extent, philology can guide us. According to wikipedia, the word 'golem' appears in Biblical Hebrew once in the Bible, as golmi, meaning 'my light form' or 'my raw material', as in an unfinished, incomplete or uncultivated human being. This has some important corollaries.

The first is that a golem must have a humanoid form. This instantly rules out juggernauts, gargoyles, and so on (though, I would argue, they will also be ruled out for other reasons which I will come to). 

The second is that a golem must be fashioned from 'raw material'. This rules out finished goods such as stained glass or steel, and also anything that is or has been alive, such as flesh or wood. It also rules out things like scarecrows and dolls that may have been created for a particular purpose and are now being repurposed as an animated slave/servitor.

The third is that a golem must be unfinished or incomplete in the sense that it is not fitting for some other purpose than being a golem. In other words, something that had an independent existence as, say, a statue, objet d'art, etc., and is now being animated for use as a putative 'golem' is not in fact one. 

It follows that there are other categories into which it is more appropriate to put things like juggernauts or scarecrows, to wit:

Animated statues are things like gargoyle 'golems' and stone 'golems' which were originally created for an inanimate, cosmetic/aesthetic purpose and have subsequently been animated.

Automata are things, mechanical or otherwise, that have been 'finished' as putative 'golems' - this would include, for example, juggernauts, steel 'golems', clockwork 'golems', glass 'golems', and so on.

Animated objects are things like scarecrows, doll 'golems', animated chairs and tables, etc., which were created for some original useful purpose but are not deployed as moving servants. Some sages dispute whether perhaps animated statutes and animated objects are in fact two sub-categories of a broader category.

Reanimations are things that were once alive and have now been, well, re-animated - whether as a whole or in a collection of parts. The flesh golem would be the archetypal example, but a golem made from wood would perhaps be another.

It also follows that the only two types of 'golem' listed in the Monstrous Manual that actually qualify as golems are clay, and possibly iron and stone on the proviso that the latter two types must not be statues that have been later animated, but must be crude, unfinished humanoids fashioned from the material in question. It also follows that there may be other varieties of golem that are as yet undiscovered - for example, golems formed from the mud at the bottom of the sea, or from soft metals, or from ambergris perhaps.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Three Boos for AI

Readers who have been following along with my posts about AI in RPG publishing (see here, here, here and here) may be interested to read the latest missive from the excellent Ted Gioia. In it, he describes how tech nerds at the SXSW conference this year, well, roundly booed a video extolling the virtues of AI:

At first, just a few people booed. But then more and more—and louder and louder. The more the experts on screen praised the benefits of artificial intelligence, the more hostile the crowd got.

The booing, he continues: 

started in response to the comment that 'AI is a culture.' And the audience booed louder when the word disrupted was used as a term of praise (as is often the case in the tech world nowadays).

'These people,' he concludes the opening section to his post, 'literally come to the event to learn about new things, and even they are gagging on this stuff.'

He goes on from there to make quite a strong case that we are reaching a tipping point with respect to tech in general, citing various surveys that both he and others have conducted. But in the end he quite rightly makes a more subjective but more forceful argument: 

Almost every one of you feels this in your gut: You can’t trust the tech. Not anymore.


I feel it, you feel it, we all feel it. The world that big tech has imposed on us is, quite simply, a pretty crappy place to be. What we need is to act on this knowledge. And what we can do in our little corner of the multiverse, as elf game enthusiasts, is I think clear: we can tell the truth more. The use of AI art and writing is creatively redundant; it is lame; it is dehumanising; it is the refuge of the unskilled and uninteresting; its results are insipid, soulless and uninspired. It should never be used except perhaps as an amusing toy or meme generator or way to make throwaway clipart to liven up a PowerPoint presentation, and it certainly should never make an appearance in anything approaching work that aspires to be taken seriously. It is the last refuge of scoundrels, and you should stop using it. 

Friday 15 March 2024

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand - look into my heart and you will sort of understand

Sometimes a picture tells a thousand words. Let us, then, tell many thousands of words with the following images, from what I think of as the holy triumvirate of artworks depicting a conceptual World of TSRan (see posts here, here and here). This triumvirate consists of Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson, and John Howe - the latter of whom never to my knowledge having illustrated anything for D&D, but whose Tolkien pieces were roughly contemporaneous, and certainly just as influential on the formation of my imaginative contours in my early teenage years (as always, click to enlarge):

In the end, if I can add just a few words, I think what makes these pieces so important in building the necessary mood is the combination of three key elements: first, a sense of vastness of scale; second sufficient hyperrealism to allow the viewer to imagine entering the world depicted; and third, a sense of the transcendent or sublime. These are in short romantic images, and it is perhaps helpful to think of the World of TSRan as imbued with romanticism. 

What can also perhaps be observed is that many, if not all, of these pieces are also curiously intimate despite the size and grandeur of the backdrop. The best example of this I think may be the image of Sturm and Flint travelling through the snowy mountains; these are real people, and you can imagine yourself there with them. There is a kind of genius in this.